Books: time travel, evil ivy and French cooking.

BOOK REVIEW TIME: What am I reading these days? These three are garnering market attention and, just maybe, should make it on your summer read list. But these books started and ended the same for me. I was hooked. Until I wasn’t.

The River of No Return: A Novel , by Bee Ridgway;  Wildwood Imperium: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book III , By Colin Meloy;  Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste , by Luke Barr

The River of No Return: A Novel, by Bee Ridgway; Wildwood Imperium: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book III, By Colin Meloy; Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, by Luke Barr

A River of No Return: This book is the love child of time travel and magic, by a debut writer. I adore time travel and magic. (Genre faves: The Time Travelers Wife and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.) Also? The cover is stunning. Ridgway constructs a fantasy novel—but without swirling purple font and confetti of fantasy. Instead, it’s historically driven and deliberately written. Where time travel happens, but not always by choice. And a secret society governs those who, by skill or chance, find their lives, loves and work interrupted by the skip of centuries.

Half way through, I was swept away by this novel. Ready to declare it a new favorite. But then? It became too confident. Jittery towards the end, with overreaching prep for a sequel. And all I really wanted was a good, solid story. Oh poor me.

Wildwood book 3: The final installment of the young-adult trilogy (based in PDX and inspired by Forest Park) chronicles a band of runaway orphans, underground activists, bandits, mystics, a mechanical boy, an awakened evil spirit and a hook-handed bear. Phew. I’m totally a fan of young adult lit, the first two books and the nod to environmental themes. << Brilliant, the evil ivy. Also, I’ve long admired the illustrator (Carson Ellis).

But this story was overwhelmed with politics: immigration, religion, government, rebellion, industry. Don’t get me wrong, young adult literature can and should address tough issues. But when it means the emotion of the story, and the character and plot development is clumsy? It’s back to basics folks. More editing. More heart.     

Provence, 1970: FANTASTIC cover art. And (almost) food porn for any follower of French cuisine. Thanks to letters and a found notebook, Barr details a time when America’s food giants—Julia Child, James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Richard Olney and Simone Beck—find themselves in France, their place of inspiration, at the same time.

Me? I'm a good eater. And also avid daydreamer of French olive trees and Avignon markets. So I was positively thrilled, and hungry, reading Barr’s account. (Barr is a grandnephew to Fisher.) It was a campaign for fresh eating, with joy and friendship, when Americans were wowed by quick, canned, molded food and TV trays. The downside of the story? Too much pâté and foie gras. The writing is slow. And painfully overwritten. The upside? I’d throw the book down, ride my bike to the local store and suddenly my kitchen would look like this. Which is actually pretty great.